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Great Basin Advisory Committee Mtg

Great Basin Advisory Committee (BAC) Meeting 10/16/14, Elko, NV.

Be aware that this BAC advises Nevada BLM only, but the content was pertinent to every state with wild horses. I attended because a personal hero, Dr. Kirkpatrick was scheduled to speak and I very much wanted to hear from the horse’s mouth. Pun intended.

Summary:

The meeting of the Great Basin Advisory Committee (BAC) meeting began at 9am, Thursday 10/16/14 in Elko, NV and was brilliantly chaired by Jeff White. From 9:30-10:30 Ken Visser, Rangeland Specialist from (I believe) Washington (state) spoke on the History and Development of BLM Standards and Guidelines, Use and Implementation in Public Lands and Historical Context. Those Standards and Guidelines are Section 43 CFR 4130.3-1(c) (2005), a number you may hear referred to and something that is specific to grazing permits and leases. No other department has such completely described standards and guidelines (which is a little frightening). These standards apply to watershed function, ecological processes (hydrologic cycle, nutrient cycle, energy flow) water quality, special status habitat and all other native species habitat, and were approved in 1997. It also called for NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) Analysis. (Personally I think it’s time to incorporate new science.)

For me, the take away of this presentation was to see how hamstrung are our friends at BLM ground level. In addition to conforming to the standards, Ely District Manager Rosie Thomas, an intelligent and articulate asset to the BLM, sadly soon to retire, explained to me that range analysis requires a year of research, generally followed by a year of analysis and generation of an Environmental Impact Study, followed by a year of litigation before implementation, and that this three year process is supposed to happen every two years. This is the general modus operandi I heard repeatedly. Add to that, range management really must look at trends over ten years or more, not just current conditions (climate change anyone?) and of course all interested parties asking for more and more site-specific analysis.

Just a small snapshot of a (yawn) hour-long power point explaining the food chain of the bureaucracy. A real snooze, but helpful in understanding what the people on the ground, the people most of us know and generally like, have to deal with. In addition, there is the hierarchy of funding, which I will get into later. It’s not all one pot. There’s the district, state and federal levels and they don’t always play well with others.

From 11:15-12pm Dr. Jay Kirkpatrick, Science & Conservation Center, Billings, MT presented Fertility Control for Wild Horse Populations. Most of you know who Dr. Kirkpatrick is, but for those who don’t, he has been a pioneer in wildlife contraception for 42 years, principally though the use of PZP.

All of Dr. Kirkpatrick’s research can easily be found online. His philosophy regarding his research, as well as PZP is that it was developed with public money and therefore no profit should be made from it. (On that note a distinction should be made between “Native PZP” and PZP-22, which is somewhat more costly. Since Native PZP can’t be synthesized, each batch has to be individually created so there’s no financial incentive for it to be corporatized.)

To sum up his presentation, when properly administered, whether by CTR (Capture, Treat & Release) or through darting, populations can reach near zero growth in just a few years. PZP is an immune-interrupter, meaning that the vaccine targets the receptor, or “lock” mechanism of the mare’s egg, changing it so that the stud’s sperm is no longer recognized as the correct “key.” The main difference between PZP and other immune mediated contraceptives is that PZP does not interfere with any other systems of the mare’s body. Other immune mediated contraceptives may affect other organ systems. GonaCon for example negatively impacts the heart, sometimes fatally. The initial inoculation is given, hopefully followed 2 weeks later by a booster. However even if the booster is not given, missed, or whatever, the efficacy rate is still high.

Of particular note in the often-cited Assateague Island program is that the ponies were never captured or handled in any way. Dr. Kirkpatrick and one associate administered PZP in the field. In response to the common “It won’t work here,” response, he told me that the terrain there was horrendous with saw grass, marsh and thorny brambles.

Dr. Kirkpatrick repeatedly emphasized that what made the Assateague ponies, African elephants and Catalina bison programs so successful was public education and the LONG TERM COMMITMENT of the agencies involved. Often BLM is looking for a one shot, quick fix. Ain’t gonna happen. To my knowledge, the only one time fixes are field spaying and gelding which have terrible side effects in multiple dimensions and are prohibitively expensive. The cost for PZP is $106 per application. (I should also point out that Neda DeMayo has been successfully managing her sanctuary population with PZP for about fifteen years and Dr. K had a laundry list of herds being successfully managed over decades. Happily some of those included reservation herds.)

I asked Dr. K. how many people it would take to implement a program and to my surprise he said, “Two. Any more than that is disruptive to the herd.” BLM is concerned about the costs of a Catch Treat and Release program, Dr. K. does not feel that the horses necessarily need to be captured, and many of you and I have gotten well within the 60 yards necessary to dart. BLM members on the board expressed doubt about whether this is possible, believing that the horses will become wary of the shooter. This may or may not be true. I don’t believe the horses in the Pryors or McCullough herds are being captured but are being darted.

I also asked him to address many of the commonly held negative opinions about using PZP and zero population growth. First a couple of things about the population growth. By preventing mares from becoming impregnated until they are well-conditioned adults, the miscarriage and foal mortality rates go way down, as does mortality in poorly conditioned and/or immature mares. Since mares will only be allowed to foal once so that they may contribute to the gene pool (which is much healthier for the gene pool than continually subtracting young, viable horses who will never get to contribute) mares, who generally don’t live past 9 years old, begin to live as long as the studs, well into their twenties and beyond. Let’s hear it for equal opportunity! General condition of the herd improves.

I asked about changes in herd behavior. This has been studied and found to be a non-issue. I asked about the down side of mares being continually bred. He pointed out that being continually in foal or nursing was more of a challenge. Another item is that the sex ratio become more normalized, and since animals are not being removed, birthrate decreases. Increased birthrate is a common, cross species response to sudden population decrease, which is what we have now with gathers.

Does it effect time of year that mares foal? No.
Does it effect lactation in wet mares? No.
Is there any immune compromise to mares? No.
Is there sterility of mares post treatment? Yes, some small percentage of mares will not conceive after treatment. On the other hand, there are also a small percentage of non-responders to the vaccine. Most mares will conceive with withdrawal of treatment.
All of the above questions have been studied.

The bottom line, that had to be emphasized to BLM several times, is that we can’t wait for a PERFECT solution. This is a very good solution, available right now and much, much less expensive than the $50,000 lifetime cost to keep a horse in long term holding. And BLM is of course concerned about the cost. I emphasized whenever I had the chance that there are volunteers ready and willing to do the groundwork. I will get to the cost structure problems at the end.

At 12:15 the next thing on the agenda was Battle Mountain Wild Horse & Burro Specialist, Shawna Richardson along with Laura Leigh and Neda DeMayo from Return to Freedom. The main subjects were Trap Site Adoptions and more pleas to implement the PZP program immediately. I hadn’t heard of this in Wyoming, but Shawna has been successfully conducting them in her Battle Mountain district. Shawna correct me if I am wrong. What they do, if I remember correctly, is Shawna pitches the Trap Site Adoption event locally. A separate short term holding pen is set up, people come with their trailers and choose their horse right at the pen, a local vet does the Coggins, vaccines, etc. and those people take their horse home that day. They’ve had a good response, adopting ten to thirteen horses each time and to local people who could not, or would not drive to Reno to get a wild horse. So these are ten or so families that would not have adopted a horse otherwise, saving the BLM an average of $500K per event in long term holding.

Here in lies the rub alluded to earlier. PZP programs, Trap Site Adoptions, anything the saves a horse from going to long term holding are saving the Federal BLM budget tens of thousands of dollars, but the money to fund those programs comes from the State BLM budget, doing nothing for their bottom line. So there is no motivation on the State level, from a budgetary standpoint.

My sense at the meeting is that all the way up until the state level, BLM people are desperate to find a way to reduce populations. At the upcoming gather at the Triple B HMA they plan on removing 70 horses that are damaging private property, harassing and breeding domestic stock, resulting in landowner complaints that they cannot ignore. The AML for Triple B is 215-250 and current population is 1,311. At Silver King south of Ely horses are being hit and causing safety concern on Hwy 93 and damaging private property. AML is 60-128 and current population is 452. Do the math. All AMLs are way over limit. Although I believe there may be an issue of shrinking land, it is a separate issue and because they are so prolific, the horses will expand to and beyond land allotted to them.

It was generally agreed that the issue has gained a lot of momentum and public awareness, largely through the efforts of wild horse advocates. The public is mostly in favor of contraceptive measures and the education for that needs to continue on the part of wild horse advocates and especially within the BLM. The resistance is at the top. This is the time for a huge letter writing campaign to Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell and individual State Directors to establish and FUND PZP programs in all the HMAs. I think it would be interesting to include projections of how many horses will be in long term holding in the next 1, 5, 10 years without it.

Last to passionately present her program was Jeanne Nations of Wild Horse and Burro, for a pilot PZP program with the herd in her area. She has volunteers ready to go and wants to implement in 2014, BUT, it was pointed out, first an environmental impact report must be done which will take about a year. And in that year, how many more foals will be born, that if they survive, will then have to be removed and at what cost? Everyone at the BAC was strongly in support of “the Jeannie Program” and Jeannie was understandably frustrated by the roadblocks that some foresaw. More reason in my mind, to take advantage of the current momentum and mobilize the public NOW, to put big pressure on legislators at the state and federal level, including Sally Jewell. With the time it takes to do the EI, get funding, get people trained, it will be a minimum of 12-18 months before a program can even begin, and then another 3-5 years to see populations reflect the program. At that time even more support will be needed to ensure that BLM does not drop the ball as it has sometimes done in the past.

If anyone has any other ideas of how to pressure legislators and state level BLMers into moving on this I would be glad to hear it.

On the other hand, there was not one suggestion of what to do with the horses in long term holding. It’s the elephant in the living room. Although I have my own opinion about the ethics of humane slaughter, my view was shifted in talking with Laura and Neda. It would let BLM and our legislators off the hook. If the long term holding facilities are emptied, all that does is make more space for more horses, requiring more gathers, and it will be business as usual and will be ignored because it will become another legislator’s problem ten years down the road.

I’ll close by saying I had a delightful, educational and very entertaining dinner with Jay Kirkpatrick and Neda and will probably be doing the dart training with him next spring when I return to the Great Basin and lands north. Thank you for letting me be of service.

Spiral Jetty

There are two things I wanted to see in Salt Lake. One was the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, the other the Spiral Jetty at Rozel Point, Great Salt Lake, Utah. Often  misattributed to Andy Goldsworthy, the jetty was built by Robert Smithson in 1970 He died just a few years later. All I knew before seeing it was that it was a huge spiral, 1,500 feet long, 15 feet wide made of 6,000 tons of basalt rock on the northern edge of The Great Salt Lake that appeared and disappeared, depending on the level of the lake. Over the years I had seen photographs of the jetty in various stages of revelation. Submerged for 30 years, an internet check informed me that the jetty appears anytime the lake is below 4,195 feet and luckily for me, the lake was now at 4,191 feet so the jetty would be visible.
The road to the jetty was just one exit north of the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge on 15 AND, Highway 89 N, hence the name of this blog, 89NorthToNirvana. In my travels I continually intersect and am carried by Highway 89 through some of the United State’s most spectacular country, sometimes as here in Salt Lake, being absorbed by super highways like 15, then meandering off to more interesting and scenic paths. I hope to follow it further north, possibly to the Canadian border (where it changes into ???) in the spring.
Turning off 15, one immediately leaves the plethora of familiar shopping and heads into ranching land. At the little town of Corrine I finally spotted a post office and was able to mail my tax check on the day before it was due. Whew! Continuing west there was a GINORMOUS white building of many acres which turned out to be a Wal-mart distribution center with 20 loading docks and lined up fleets of big rigs. When I returned in the afternoon dozens of rigs would be queued up on the highway for unloading. Driving on, tucked into the canyons were more insanely large (dwarfing the Wal-mart building!) windowless buildings, surrounded by barbed wire fences sporting no trespassing signs and security kiosks. Lots of mining and other extraction industries are going on here as well. There is something a bit sinister about the enormity of these operations that are going on pretty much unbeknownst to the general public, unless you happen to work there or for the BLM.
To get to the jetty one takes the Golden Spike Road to the Golden Spike Historical Monument and Visitor Center, the place where “the golden spike” was driven to connect the east and west bound rail lines, (hence: Union Pacific) finally creating a way to ship freight, especially from China, to the east coast without going all the way around Tierra del Fuego by ship. This was, of course, before the Panama Canal. The golden spike was driven at a huge ceremony and later the actual steel spike was driven into the actual rail some distance away. This major historical event now opened the west to settlement, as well as the complete and obscene obliteration of the bison, native people and a goodly portion of native bird species to feed eastern industrial cities and adorn eastern clothing, notably the passenger pigeon, sage grouse and snowy egret among others, animals which were seen in such numbers it was thought they could never be impacted. Trains stopped, idling for hours to wait for the passing of a buffalo herd across the tracks and birds were seen in their millions. In addition, the drive to complete the railroad left us with the Checkerboard, which is a management nightmare still with us today, nearly two centuries after the fact, and about which I have written previously.I stopped at the visitor center to ask if there happened to be a range specialist there, but no. I had wanted to ask about the marked difference between the grazed land to the west and the ungrazed land inside the park service boundary. The ungrazed land was very different, containing little of the sage scrub on the grazed land. Not necessarily better, but different. Clearly grazing was affecting the land in some way but I was unable to speak to anyone about the meaning of the difference.
Back to the jetty. After passing the visitor center the road turns to gravel and deteriorates badly through fenced ranching land with no trespassing signs. It was slow going, my van hates washboard. Finally the Great Salt Lake came into view. It is so odd to see the salt, the wide strip of red algae, a stripe of shimmering water and then mountains. The colors are weird. Passed some ruins and wondered where was the jetty? Finally cresting a small hill she lay in front of me. The road dead-ends there. It’s quite spectacular. It was mid-day, hazy, the light poor, but what a thing! It’s hard to get the scale from photographs. The actual jetty, made from the surrounding black volcanic rock is at least ten feet wide with an even wider space, varying ten to twenty feet between it’s spirals. I climbed up the hill to get some perspective and try to fit it all in the camera lens.
The hillside is littered with the volcanic rocks and there were two ruined foundations made of same. Mortared with concrete, they were more modern than ancient, but hard to date. No wood to be found, but many people have camped here and probably it has all been burned. A few small birds populated the area. Other than that the only sound was the wind.Not having a good camera day, I ditched it and walked down to the jetty across the salt playa. Footprints abound and someone had playfully created several small imitation spirals. As I walked out I began to get a sense of the scale of the thing andthe unfathomable amount of work that was involved in moving the many, many tons of
stone that create it. Pools of algaed salt water filled it here and there and I slid in the slippery salt mud. On the playa were it was a bit drier the wind had whipped the evaporating salt into ridged patterns.I stayed out there for over an hour. Time had slowed down. Whenever I felt I had “seen it” and started back to the van, I would be distracted by some shape or play  of light and found I didn’t really want to leave. I lost all sense of urgency and noticed that all my anxiety about the terrible road and camera problems had evaporated, replaced by a deep, still calm. It was then that I understood the magic of the place. Aside from the sound of the wind in my ears, it was completely and utterly silent. The space was huge and wide, bordered only by small mountains in the far distance. The palette was soft. But most of all it was the salt. Much more salty than the ocean, and without the noise of crashing waves, the negative ions of the salt and silence had brought my nervous system down many notches to a level of calm that I have rarely experienced.
It was then that I understood the magic of the place. Aside from the sound of the wind in my ears, it was completely and utterly silent. The space was huge and wide, bordered only by small mountains in the far distance.
The palette was soft. But most of all it was the salt. Much more salty than the ocean, and without the noise of crashing waves, the negative ions of the salt and silence had brought my nervous system down many notches to a level of calm that I have rarely experienced. The “Himalayan salt rooms” at spas have never felt like this. The salt lamp in my massage room is like spit in the ocean by comparison. I wished that I had brought my camping gear and next time I will spend the night. I just did not want to go back to civilization, but had a dinner date with a good friend from L.A. who had only just moved to SLC.

Even as I re-read the last paragraph the sense of peace and quiet returns to me. My heart calms. This is the benefit of wilderness. Hasta la vista Spiral Jetty. Until I see you again…

Telluride

I’m sitting on a dark vermillion, almost purple sandstone outcropping in an aspen grove overlooking the town. The late autumn afternoon is warm, in the high sixties and soon to change. I’m stripped to a tank top and damp because the trail is up one of the nearly vertical sides of the box canyon that is Telluride. Even though I’ve been at 6,000-7,000 feet for the past several months, the move to 9,000 has left me breathless. I’ve summitted Mt. Whitney’s 14,000 plus several times without this much effect but the mountains of Colorado literally take my breath, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the dryness. Of course I was younger then, but I’ve been coming here for over ten years and it’s always the same. At least this time there are no nosebleeds!

I’m dog sitting for a friend and have taken Ruben the knucklehead and my two up the Jud Wiebe Trail, rated moderate to difficult, 1,300 feet in about .75 miles. I’m nearly to the top but have gone far enough. Not ready to turn back, I stay and absorb the afternoon. I’m facing south, and the north face of the opposite mountain is already in shade, it’s shadow moving toward me across the meadow far below.

The mountains all around me are striped and patched with golden orange aspens at the peak of their color. Already bare in certain exposures, one can feel winter just around the corner in the sub freezing nights. From this lofty perspective the steep metal roofs of the village in green, grey, brick red and brown line up in a tight north-south grid, defined by thin strips of evergreen and yellow trees.

Telluride is very neat and tidy. A long line of cars slowly creep to and from the round about leading into town, like Tonka Toys. From up here the whole thing reminds me of the train sets we had as kids, with model houses, train stations and little trees and shrubs. The yells of boys at high school football practice drift up from the field below. It’s lovely. I came within a hair’s breath of buying a yoga studio here in 2003, but coulda, woulda, shoulda… No regrets. I always enjoy my time here, but don’t know that I would like living here full time. Especially after Wyoming. There’s still so much more beautiful country to see!

Tomorrow I will see a hundred elk cows and their calves in that meadow, lead by one magnificent buck. On my rock in the  aspen grove, an easy breeze stirs the golden silver dollar leaves, making one of my favorite sounds, a soft, shimmering shirrrrrrr, almost like rain. Back in L.A. cottonwoods made this sound. One perfect gold leaf descends through the white trunks in a gentle spiral, more horizontal than vertical, and rests on a bed of it’s siblings.

My good friends Janet and Patrick live off grid in a yurt on San Juan Mesa about 45 minutes outside of town during from roughly May through October. They will spend this winter traveling in Asia. Way to go! A few evenings ago Janet and I took a short hike from their property to check out the beaver pond.

Beaver Ponds

No beavers that night, but a great view nonetheless. When we got back to the yurt I realized Henry was missing. It was almost dark and I fear for a little munchkin like him when the coyotes come out to hunt. Janet and I took the van and backtracked, calling and calling to no avail. I was really worried. We came back to their place and checked to see if he had followed her into her container which is her office. While she did that, I opened the side door to her van, since we have matching Aerostars. Sure enough, Henry popped out. She had opened the door for a second to put her camera away and whether he was just being nosy or hopped in because the sound of the door was the same we’ll never know. At any rate, I was SO relieved to find him safe and sound.  Little bugger.

Sentries

Wyoming to Colorado

IMG_1805Time is flying by. Seems I left Rawlins yesterday, but it was Tuesday and today is Thursday. Lost a day. Left Huckleberry’s about 5pm Tuesday after abusing their wi-fi for a few hours, waiting for the thirty five mph headwinds to subside. I’d been so involved with the fact checking the blog that I hadn’t noticed and was surprised to see it was raining pretty good outside.. I put my shell over my head and ran for the car, let the dogs out and headed west on I 80.

The rain soon stopped and though the sky was still filled with dark clouds, a silver ribbon of highway stretched out in front of me. The Wyoming sky is a total drama queen.

Before I turned south on WY 389 I stopped to put the sway bar on the trailer and let the dogs out for another pee. Their noses took them straight to the rotting, sinewy carcass of yet another dismembered pronghorn, good parts taken, the hide, head and legs thrown by the roadside, the rib cage well scavenged.

I had spoken at length to a rough, tough BLM law enforcement agent in Huckleberry’s about his job. I asked if it included poaching, which it did. He also said sick people occasionally shoot horses and game, just for the hell of it, leaving the carcasses to rot. There’s a $10,000 fine for wanton killing, but it’s also a crime to discard carcasses, waste hide, etc. I had seen the same repeated offense in unofficial dumps sites and roadsides. I find it appallingly disrespectful.

I mentioned I had been surprised to hear a lot of Russian and Slavic languages spoken in the McDonalds on I 80 and that it sounded to me like a drug deal was going down. He said that there are tons of eastern Europeans doing long haul trucking between cities to the east and Salt Lake and Vegas and that it was a major meth transport corridor.

IMG_1810As I turned south on 389 a huge storm cell was speeding west to east across the horizon, the precipitation slanted by its velocity. Bolts of lightning cracked from cloud to ground. We would cross paths. The light was fantastic, so I stopped to video a few seconds, caught a flash of lightning as well as some pronghorn on the side of the road.

IMG_1838I continued south through the storm as the rain began to fall harder, turning into hail. The different precipitations were rendered on the asphalt so I could see exactly where it changed from rain to hail, back to rain or clear again. The play of light continued and the tiny draws filled with menacing, swirling brown water. Cattle and pronghorn continued to graze, unfazed by the thunder or hail, and the desert greened before my eyes.We continued like that, the small mountains of northern Colorado shining in the distance. The striated red and grey hills of the Wyoming desert gave way to grassland lush with the rain.

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Horse ranches and stock trailers appeared. I was losing the light and it was still raining lightly. I hated driving in the dark, not because of the added difficulty, but because I wanted to drink in all the beauty of the country I was passing through.

Hasta la vista Wyoming. I will see you again.

IMG_1880Uneventful night at the Wal-Mart in Craig, CO. Technically a “no overnighting” Wal-Mart, but it was still raining, cold and there were a couple of other rigs so I took my chances. In the morning we continued on south on 13. It was cold and rainy but northern Colorado was beautiful nonetheless. The road follows the Yampa River, which cuts a small canyon for miles and miles. There were lots of Forest Service turn offs with historical markers and such, but with the rain and towing the trailer I didn’t want to risk getting stuck in the very slippery, wet clay. I passed the turn off to Yellow Jacket Pass, the visual of which made me laugh.

The triple stacks of the Yampa River Coal Plant appeared on my left, steam rising in the cold air. To cool the plant turbines, water is drawn from local streams, rivers and wells and then recycled into cooling ponds. In these arid areas loss of moisture through evaporation exceeds rainfall many times over, and the steam lost in the cooling of coal plants is not recouped. A little while later a freight train snaked toward me along the Yampa River. When I got closer I saw that then entire hundred cars carried coal headed for the power plant, which made me see not only the wisdom of building the Bridger plant in Wyoming right on top of the coal mine, but I also got an object lesson of Jerry’s figures, seeing what a coal freight with a hundred cars looks like and recalling that the Bridger plant burns up one of those freights every eleven hours. Some coal trains can be two miles in length! Wyoming currently produces 37% of the coal mined in the U.S.

A bit further on a huge white conveyer tunnel crossed the road carrying coal from Mine Number Five on the east, to the tracks on the west where coal is transported out of the mine into the waiting freight cars. I’m guessing that freight just ferries back and forth between the mine and the power plant all day. The coal burning plants in southern Wyoming and northern Colorado supply power to Denver, Vegas, Phoenix and even all the way to Los Angeles along high tension lines with ridiculous loss of power along the way.

There are currently sixteen coal burning power plants in Colorado, with another nine proposed. Many of these are on Native American Reservations where as usual, a battle is being fought by some of our poorest and most needy members of society between the need for income and quality of life and environment.

If you live anywhere west of Colorado to get real about where your power comes from, check out this interesting and informative article, “Coal-burning Power Plants of the Colorado River Basin” by John Weisheit. http://www.onthecolorado.com/articles.cfm?mode=detail&id=1224816661155

The journey south along CO 13 continued to be lovely. Still raining and cold, but what did I care? I was warm and dry and all was well with the rig.

In Meeker, CO there is no doubt it is hunting season. The meat processing and taxidermy businesses are quite open and a sign in front of the local liquor store advertises “Suitcase Bud Lite & Fine Cigars.” The center of town sports a life sized bronze elk wearing an orange hunter’s cap and vest. I have to appreciate the humor.

Coming into the high country we pass sheep ranches, the fleece of the white-faced sheep turning dark grey with the rain. Two paint ponies were tied to a sheep wagon completely unperturbed by the cold, wet temperatures in the low thirties. I marvel at, and am quite jealous of herd animals’ thermoregulatory abilities. I passed several more sheep wagons perched high on the rugged mountainsides.

sheep_camp.308104015_stdTraditionally wood sided wagons covered with hooped canvas, steps out a rear door and a wood stove pipe sticking out the top, they resemble an old time Gypsy wagon. Today they are often covered in aluminum, are quite expensive, pretty darn cozy and are being swept up in the Tiny House craze. These however, were working sheep wagons, with thin wisps of smoke coming out their stovepipe chimneys. I imagine a sheepherder could sometimes be glad of a cold rainy day, sheep bunched up for warmth and not needing his constant attention.

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As I climbed toward Nine Mile Gap the rain turned to big, wet flakes of snow, which stuck to the greening grass, dulling it to the same soft hue as the sagebrush. I kept an eye out for black ice but the snow presented no problem to driving as it was above freezing.

I finally top out at a rest area where a mountain bluebird shakes off the snow.

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Then it’s down into Rifle to pick up I 70. The weather clears and I have a short but beautiful ride west along the Colorado River into Grand Junction, then south on CO 50 through Delta to Montrose for another cold very and rainy night at more welcoming Ché Wal-Mart.

I’ve sprung a couple of small leaks around the back windows of the trailer and the memory foam is a giant sponge. I attempt to dry things out somewhat by continually repositioning the catalytic heater, hoping I don’t set anything on fire. In Wal-Mart I lust after heavy fleece Mickey Mouse pajama bottoms and fleece lined Wranglers. I buy warm socks, stuff towels into the leaks and spend an uneventful night in the parking lot, dwarfed by giant, tour bus sized RV’s.

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Next stop: Telluride.